A Visit from the Goon Squad

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Themes and Colors
Time and Memory Theme Icon
Identity, Authenticity, and Meaning Theme Icon
Connection, Disconnection, and Technology Theme Icon
Fame, Art, and Popular Culture Theme Icon
Ruin and Redemption  Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in A Visit from the Goon Squad, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Time and Memory Theme Icon

A Visit from the Goon Squad serves as an in depth exploration of the passage of time, the effects of aging on individual lives, and the longing for the past through memory. The novel’s title even speaks directly to the theme of time. Bosco, the former guitarist of The Conduits, who has become fat, alcoholic, and suicidal, states, “Time’s a goon, right?” Traditionally, a goon was an individual who inflicts fear and violence on others to achieve a desired end. Utilizing the word “goon” illuminates Egan’s understanding of time as an unforgiving force that shapes the novel’s characters in various, and often unpleasant, ways.

The novel’s exploration of time and memory occurs in the overarching structure of the novel, and also within the individual stories. Structurally, the stories move back and forth through time. This movement offers clear depictions of the way in which people, places, and cultures change over time. Likewise, within the individual stories, there are often sudden jumps into the future, which offer immediate and powerful juxtapositions between the present, past, and future. For example, in the story “Safari,” Charlie and Rolph, who are siblings, are depicted dancing in a moment of true connection. During this moment, however, the story jumps suddenly forward, and the reader finds out that at the age of 28 Rolph will commit suicide. The leap forward puts this moment of connection in conversation with the tragedy these characters will experience later in life. This kind of narrative gesture is common throughout the novel.

The merciless effect of time on the lives of the novel’s characters often leaves them searching memory for better times. The novel’s characters are haunted by their mistakes, but also by their past successes. They often turn to memory, longing for a past in which their lives were exciting, their careers were fruitful, and their health was stable. Though not all of the novel’s characters are completely ravaged by the passing of time, all of them must grapple with their powerlessness over it, their inability to stop or slow the passage of their lives, and the changes that come with it. Memory often serves as a respite for these characters, but ultimately, their lives are propelled forward and they have no choice but to go for the ride.

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Time and Memory ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Time and Memory appears in each Chapter of A Visit from the Goon Squad. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Time and Memory Quotes in A Visit from the Goon Squad

Below you will find the important quotes in A Visit from the Goon Squad related to the theme of Time and Memory.
Chapter 1 Quotes

She could tell that [Alex] was in excellent shape, not from going to the gym but from being young enough that his body was still imprinted with whatever sports he'd played in high school and college. Sasha, who was thirty-five, had passed that point. Still, not even Coz knew her real age. The closest anyone had come to guessing it was thirty-one, and most put her in her twenties. She worked out daily and avoided the sun. Her online profiles all listed her as twenty-eight.

Related Characters: Sasha Blake (speaker), Coz
Related Symbols: The Sun, The Body and Appearance
Page Number: 6
Explanation and Analysis:

Scenes of Sasha’s date with Alex are interwoven with her therapy session with Coz, and they work together to establish Sasha’s character and explore her insecurity about aging and her struggle with authenticity. In the novel, the body is a symbol that depicts the often-ruinous impact of time. Likewise, the sun symbolically speaks to the passage of time. Both symbols then work to illuminate Sasha’s character in this quote.

Sasha’s attention to Alex’s body speaks both to her insecurity about her own age and her understanding that the body reflects the impact of time. Alex has not been subjected to the ruinous effects of time yet, the way Sasha has. Sasha struggles to come to terms with the fact that she is aging—she avoids the sun (which can make people get wrinkles earlier, but in the novel also generally represents passing time) and keeps a gym routine in an attempt to combat aging. Her online profiles and lies to Coz further depict her insecurity and her inability to be authentic even with those closest to her. Likewise, the fact that her online profiles give her the capacity to deceive others also speaks to the way in which technology can serve as force of disconnection in the lives of the novel’s characters.

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"I'm sorry," Sasha said quickly. "It’s a problem I have."
The woman opened the wallet. Her physical relief at having it back coursed through Sasha in a warm rush, as if their bodies had fused.
“Everything's there, I swear," she said. "I didn't even open it. It's this problem I have, but I'm getting help. I just—please don't tell. I'm hanging on by a thread."
The woman glanced up, her soft brown eyes moving over Sasha's face. What did she see? Sasha wished that she could turn and peer in the mirror again, as if something about herself might at last be revealed—some lost thing. But she didn't turn. She held still and let the woman look. It struck her that the woman was close to her own age—her real age. She probably had children at home.

Related Characters: Sasha Blake (speaker)
Page Number: 11
Explanation and Analysis:

In this scene, the woman who owns the wallet Sasha stole earlier in the story confronts Sasha. As the therapy session sections of this chapter show, Sasha struggles to admit her addiction to stealing, but in this moment, she is forced to confront her addiction, an undesirable component of her true identity.

Here Sasha not only sees this undesirable part of herself with clarity, but another person also sees her with depth, which creates a feeling of connection within Sasha. Sasha, however, still wonders who she truly is, and thus is immediately curious about what else the woman sees in her—she wants to find something true, something perhaps “lost,” in the reflection of the woman’s eyes in the mirror (an image with several layers of disconnection). The moment ends with Sasha returning to her insecurity around her age and the misguided life she has lived. Her thought that the woman is her age and has children at home shows the distinction between where Sasha thinks she should be in her life, and where she actually stands.

Chapter 2 Quotes

Bennie's assistant, Sasha, brought him coffee: cream and two sugars. He shimmied a tiny red enameled box from his pocket, popped the tricky latch, pinched a few gold flakes between his trembling fingers, and released them into his cup. He'd begun this regimen two months ago, after reading in a book on Aztec medicine that gold and coffee together were believed to ensure sexual potency. Bennie's goal was more basic than potency: sex drive, his own having mysteriously expired.

Related Characters: Bennie Salazar (speaker), Sasha Blake
Related Symbols: The Body and Appearance
Page Number: 21-22
Explanation and Analysis:

This chapter (and scene) takes place chronologically before the last story, prior to Sasha’s loss of her job as Bennie’s secretary as the result of her stealing. Like Sasha, Bennie struggles with the fact that he is aging. Again, the body serves to symbolically point toward the ruinous effects of time, as Bennie’s sexual dysfunction is manifested in his physical body. His sexual impotence also speaks metaphorically to the impotency he is experiencing in his life and career. This impotency is incredibly damaging to Bennie’s ego—his identity is rooted in his power as a record executive. His faith in the rather ridiculous Aztec healing method of consuming raw gold speaks to his desire to redeem his power by whatever means necessary, even the literal consumption of wealth and extravagance.

"It's incredible," Sasha said, "how there's just nothing there."
Astounded, Bennie turned to her…Sasha was looking downtown, and he followed her eyes to the empty space where the Twin Towers had been.
"There should be something, you know?" she said, not looking at Bennie. "Like an echo. Or an outline."

Related Characters: Sasha Blake (speaker), Bennie Salazar (speaker)
Page Number: 36
Explanation and Analysis:

As Bennie drives Sasha home through New York City after their visit to the house of the “Stop/Go” sisters, they pass the place where the Twin Towers stood before the terrorist attack of September 11th, 2001. In the novel, several sites in New York City, including the East River and the Twin Towers, serve as reflections of the ruin in the lives of the novel’s characters. Both Bennie and Sasha have sustained significant ruin their lives—Sasha through her stealing and Bennie through his egotism and self-centeredness—and their attention to the ruin of Ground Zero reflects this shared experience.

Sasha’s comments about the towers speak to her struggle in accepting her own past, and the losses she has experienced in her life. Her desire for an echo or an outline also suggests a desire to find some remnant of her past in the present, as well as her inability to accept her losses (which are explored further as the novel progresses).

Chapter 4 Quotes

[Charlie] takes hold of his hands. As they move together, Rolph feels his self-consciousness miraculously fade, as if he is growing up right there on the dance floor, becoming a boy who dances with girls like his sister. Charlie feels it, too. In fact, this particular memory is one she'll return to again and again, for the rest of her life, long after Rolph has shot himself in the head in their father's house at twenty-eight: her brother as a boy, hair slicked flat, eyes sparkling, shyly learning to dance.

Related Characters: Charlene (Charlie) (speaker), Rolph (speaker)
Page Number: 82
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout this story Charlie and Rolph have struggled to bond, but in this final moment of the story they find connection on the dance floor. For most of the story Rolph has identified with his father, but after a falling-out over Lou’s vicious misogyny, Rolph disconnects from his father and begins establishing his own authentic identity independent of Lou. Rolph feels this process toward his own authentic identity physically, which is depicted in the fading of his self-consciousness as he dances with Charlie.

The crucial flash-forward in this moment, however, counters the sense of redemption present in this scene. Rolph feels as though he is coming into his own identity, but his father’s ruinous views and behavior will have a lasting effect on him, and ultimately play a part in his decision to end his own life. The past undoubtedly impacts these characters, shaping who they become in the future—another example of the often-ruinous force of time on their lives. Memory, however, serves as a respite for the pain of the present (in the flash-forward) for Charlie. In light of the tragedies in her life, Charlie finds solace in the memory of this moment of pure connection.

Chapter 5 Quotes

Every night, my mother ticks off another day I've been clean. It's more than a year, my longest yet. "Jocelyn, You've got so much life in front of you," she says. And when I believe her, for a minute, there's a lifting over my eyes. Like walking out of a dark room.

Related Characters: Jocelyn (speaker), Lou Kline, Rhea
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis:

Jocelyn and Rhea return to Lou’s house twenty years after the chapter “Ask Me If I Care,” which first introduced this cast of characters. Lou, who was last seen as a powerful record executive, has been ruined by a stroke; Rhea, who struggled with her punk persona, has gotten married and had children; and Jocelyn, who was popular but lost, has been in and out of rehab and finally gotten clean. The large leap in time since the last time these characters appeared illuminates the unpredictable and often ruinous effects of time on their lives.

Jocelyn has had a particularly difficult time in the preceding years, and feels as though she is beyond redemption, having missed her chance at a good life. Her lack of hope is depicted in her struggle to believe her mother’s encouraging words, but at moments she is able to believe her, and feels relief at the thought of redemption.

Chapter 7 Quotes

"I want interviews, features, you name it," Bosco went on. "Fill up my life with that shit. Let's document every fucking humiliation. This is reality, right? You don't look good anymore twenty years later, especially when you've had half your guts removed. Time's a goon, right? Isn't that the expression?"

Related Characters: Bosco (speaker), Stephanie
Page Number: 127
Explanation and Analysis:

Stephanie, who is a PR woman, goes to visit Bosco (the former guitarist of the Conduits) to talk about promoting his new album. At one time, Bosco was a very famous rock star, but he has aged, become alcoholic, and is dying of cancer. He has now decided that he wants to die on stage during his tour.

Bosco’s comment about time being a “goon” both gives the novel its title and speaks to the devastating effects of time and aging on these characters’ lives and bodies. The novel shows the way in which popular culture ignores the truth of aging, and remains obsessed with youth and vitality, but Bosco wants to counteract this. He is willing to go to great lengths to regain his fame (dying on stage), but also desires to show himself authentically, and provide an authentic view of aging and ruin.

Chapter 8 Quotes

Entering Lulu's bedroom, Dolly felt like Dorothy waking up in Oz: everything was in color. A pink shade encircled the overhead lamp. Pink gauzy fabric hung from the ceiling. Pink winged princesses were stenciled onto the walls: Dolly had learned how to make the stencils in a jailhouse art class and had spent days decorating the room while Lulu was at school. Long strings of pink beads hung from the ceiling. When she was home, Lulu emerged from her room only to eat.

Related Characters: Dolly Peale (La Doll) (speaker), Lulu
Page Number: 145-146
Explanation and Analysis:

Throughout this Chapter, Dolly and Lulu’s relationship is explored during their trip to a foreign country to do PR work for The General. Their relationship is strained as the result of Dolly’s fall from fame after a party in which a light display malfunctioned and burned the guests. This event led to the loss of Dolly’s job and her incarceration. Since this time, Dolly’s relationship with Lulu has existed in a state of ruin. She is trying to regain stability in their lives through her work with The General, and in this scene she enters Lulu’s room to tell her about the trip they are going to take.

Lulu is the only thing in Dolly’s life that holds any meaning, and she desires connection with her daughter more than anything else. Her impression of the bedroom with its bright colors shows the way in which Lulu is the bright spot in Dolly’s life, but the stenciled princesses are a reminder of the past, suggesting that though Dolly has been released from prison, the memory of this time period and the ruin it has caused will remain. The fact that Lulu only emerges from the room to eat further shows the deterioration of their relationship and the depth of their disconnection from one another.

Chapter 10 Quotes

For months she'd done business with Lars, arriving sometimes without having managed to take anything, just needing money. "I thought he was my boyfriend," she said. "But I think I wasn't thinking anymore." She was better now, hadn't stolen anything in two years. "That wasn't me, in Naples," she told you, looking out at the crowded bar. "I don't know who it was. I feel sorry for her."

Related Characters: Sasha Blake (speaker), Rob (speaker)
Page Number: 194
Explanation and Analysis:

Before returning to New York City, beginning college, and meeting Rob, Sasha lived a transient lifestyle in Europe and Asia. Upon meeting Rob, they feign a relationship to make Sasha’s father happy, and the two become close. Sasha shares some of her destructive past experiences with Rob, which leads to a deep connection between them. In this quote, the pain Sasha has experienced because of her addiction to stealing and lack of understanding of her identity becomes clear.

Sasha misinterprets the meaning of her relationship with Lars. In reality, she was engaging in sex work, but because she believed Lars was her boyfriend, she was able to rationalize to herself the act of sleeping with him for money. In this case, the misinterpretation of certain situations has led Sasha to justify her actions, but not without devastating consequences. Her struggle in establishing an authentic identity is then depicted in her comments about pitying her past self. This suggests her identity has changed since that time, and the fact she hasn’t stolen in two years suggests she is on the road to redemption. This hope, however, is counteracted by the stories earlier in the book that show Sasha later in life and still engaging in her addiction.

Chapter 11 Quotes

Ted braced himself for his moody, unpredictable son. "Hiya, Alf!"
"Dad, don't use that voice."
"What voice?"
"That fake 'Dad' voice."
"What do you want from me, Alfred? Can we have a conversation?"
"We lost."
"So you're what, five and eight?"
"Four and nine."
"Well. There's time."
"There's no time," said Alfred. "Time is running out." "

Related Characters: Ted Hollander (speaker), Alfred
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

Ted, a husband, father, and art scholar, is in Naples. He is supposed to be looking for his niece, Sasha, but has been ignoring his duty and going to art museums instead. In this story, Ted’s primary struggles are connecting with his family and finding balance between his identity as a father and his identity as an art scholar. His phone call with his son then depicts both his inauthenticity and his disconnection from his family.

Ted’s son recognizes the lack of authenticity in his father’s voice, and immediately calls him out for being fake. Ted’s children seek connection him through sports, but Ted is seemingly not interested in sports, suggesting a deeper lack of understanding in his character and a strong lack of connection in the family. The comment about there still being time shows, on one level, that Ted does not empathize with his son’s disappointment at having lost the game. In a larger sense, however, it speaks to Ted’s belief that he still has time to redeem his family and find Sasha. His son’s final comment is then an ominous one, reflecting Ted’s lack of understanding that he does not have as much time as he thinks to redeem his marriage and find Sasha.

On another day more than twenty years after this one, after Sasha had gone to college and settled in New York; after she'd reconnected on Facebook with her college boyfriend and married late (when Beth had nearly given up hope) and had two children, one of whom was slightly autistic…Ted, long divorced—a grandfather—would visit Sasha at home in the California desert…And for an instant he would remember Naples: sitting with Sasha in her tiny room; the jolt of surprise and delight he'd felt when the sun finally dropped into the center of her window and was captured inside her circle of wire.
Now he turned to her, grinning. Her hair and face were aflame with orange light.
"See," Sasha muttered, eyeing the sun. "It's mine."

Related Characters: Sasha Blake (speaker), Ted Hollander
Related Symbols: The Sun
Page Number: 233
Explanation and Analysis:

This quote is a flash-forward that occurs while Ted is with Sasha in Naples. He has finally found connection with her, and they share a moment of authenticity in her room as the sun sets. The sun as a symbol generally represents the theme of time, and the flash-forward reveals that the sunset signifies an end to this period of Sasha’s life, and the beginning of her journey toward something better. The novel’s flash-forwards generally reveal whether the characters find redemption or end up in a state of ruin.

Sasha is one of the few characters in the novel that finds redemption. She reconnects with Drew through Facebook, which depicts the way in which technology plays a role in the way people connect in the future. She eventually finds stability, and has a family. Ted, however, loses his marriage as the result of his inability to manage the two components of his identity that are at odds in the story.

The end of the quote then jumps back to Naples, as Sasha claims that the sun is “mine.” This is a reminder of her fear of time and aging—later in life she avoids the sun altogether—but also her addiction to stealing. It’s as if she desires to possess and control the sun itself, to steal the idea of time and thus escape its effects.

Chapter 12 Quotes

Mom makes sculptures in the desert out of trash and our old toys. Eventually her sculptures fall apart, which is “part of the process.”

Related Characters: Alison Blake (speaker), Sasha Blake
Page Number: 242
Explanation and Analysis:

Alison describes her mother’s (Sasha’s) sculptures in this moment. Sasha makes art out of found objects, which is also the title of the novel’s first chapter, “Found Objects.” Sasha has channeled her addiction to stealing into an art form, which has allowed her to find a new sense of meaning, pointing to the potentially redemptive quality of art. The fact that Sasha builds the sculptures knowing that they will fall apart also suggests an acceptance of time and the unavoidability of decay and ruin. In light of this new understanding, it is clear that Sasha has better come to terms with time’s effects as well as with her own identity, and has finally discovered a way to live her life more authentically.

Conduit: A Rock-and-Roll Suicide, by Jules Jones. Mom bought the book, but she never mentions it. It’s about a fat rock star who wants to die onstage, but ends up recovering and owning a dairy farm. There’s a picture of Mom on page 128…Mom’s mouth is smiling, but her eyes are sad. She looks like someone I want to know, or maybe even be.

Related Characters: Alison Blake (speaker), Sasha Blake, Bosco, Jules Jones
Page Number: 258
Explanation and Analysis:

The book Alison mentions here provides a glimpse into her mother’s past. The book calls back to the chapter “A to B”, which highlights Bosco’s decision to go on his “suicide tour” and Jules’ desire to document it. In “A to B” these characters seem completely ruined—Jules by his mental illness and Bosco by his alcoholism and cancer—but the presence of the book here suggests that both of these characters have found some kind of redemption.

Sasha’s lack of interest in the book suggests that she wants to put the troubles of her past behind her. Alison, however, wonders who her mother was in the past. The picture of Sasha smiling with sad eyes speaks to the conflict she lived with for so many years, and her struggle to find herself authentically. This is no longer the woman Sasha is as Alison’s mother, and Alison wants to connect with her mother in a deeper way by understanding who her mother was in the past (while also perhaps just wishing her mother were as “cool” as she once was). Though Alison generally identifies more strongly with her father, she senses a connection with her mother as she looks at this image.